I love camping! It’s relaxing, fun, and can sometimes be challenging. It’s much more than just picking a spot, putting up a tent, and starting a campfire. This ultimate guide to camping for beginners will help you plan, pack, and enjoy your camping adventure!
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Guide to Planning a Camping Trip
What type of camping do you want to do?
The most popular type of camping. Tent camping brings back nostalgia from when I was little and used to go camping with my parents. It was always such a fun time getting to go on a vacation, playing outside all day, then making s’mores at night.
Recreational Vehicle (RV) Camping
If you own an RV you may decide to RV camp instead. The benefit of this is that, depending on the RV, you may have your own bathroom, a bed to sleep in, a fridge, and a place to cook other than fire.
Now onto cabin camping. There are tons of different cabins. There are super basic cabins where it’s just a table and a bed and then there are cabins with a full kitchen, T.V., and a pool. The cabin you choose really just depends on the adventure you are interested in having.
Once you decide which type of camping you want to do then it’s time to pick a date and location.
Choose a Date(s) and a Location
Most of the time you will be camping at a campground. When staying at a campground you have to reserve and pay for a site, which obviously means you need to know when you will be camping.
Keep in mind that during the winter some campgrounds or national park campsites close due to inclement weather. We normally stay away from summer camping because it’s just way too hot and there are so many bugs. If you decide to camp in the summer, consider a campground that has a lake or river that you can swim and cool off in.
Tip: If it is your first time camping or you are nervous about your camping trip, stay somewhere close to home. If you forget something you can quickly go back home and grab it.
Do some research and find the campground that you want to stay and then check their availability.
When choosing a campground we usually ask the following questions.
Are there trails to hike nearby?
Are they dog friendly?
Is there a grocery store nearby? (We inevitable always forget something)
Do they have bathrooms/ showers on-site?
How close are the neighboring campsites?
Is there a minimum stay required?
What is the nightly fee for staying?
Answering these questions can help determine which campground is right for you.
What to Pack
Remember when you are camping you will be spending most of your time outside. You will most likely get dirty. I don’t recommend wearing nice clothes with you camping.
If you are camping in the winter you want to make sure you have warm clothes, especially at night. Make sure to bring layers. Even if it is warm when you are camping bring some extra layers in case it gets chilly at night. Keep in mind if you are hiking in the mountains it may be colder because of the elevation gain.
I always bring my wool socks with me hiking and camping. If you plan on hiking you definitely want your hiking boots, daypack (if you need help choosing a daypack, check out our post), and a rain jacket just in case.
Just make sure you bring clothes that are comfortable.
You absolutely don’t want to forget the bug spray.
You need more than just a tent to go camping. A typical campsite is bare. Some campgrounds have a picnic table at each site, but make sure to check if this is included or not. They may also have a water hose, grill, and a community bathroom. You need to make sure you check the campground website or ask campground staff before you go.
Here is a list of the camping essentials you will need:
If you are tent camping you absolutely need a tent.
READ: Best Tents for Camping
A sleeping bag is a must unless you plan on sleeping on the thin tent floor. There are so many sleeping bag options. If you are camping in the cold make sure to get a sleeping bag that is made for the cold.
Sleeping Pad/ Air Mattress
Even with a sleeping bag, the ground is hard and uncomfortable. We always bring an air mattress with us. You can also get a sleeping pad. Depending on the type and brand they are fairly similar in price.
You don’t want to forget your pillow! It will be a painful night’s sleep without it. Camping pillows are also an option, they are slightly smaller than a normal pillow so they take up less space when packing.
Most campsites have no electricity. Make sure to bring lanterns and flashlights with you. This will come in handy when walking to the bathroom and being able to see inside your tent. If you are RV camping you can check for campsites that offer electric hook-ups.
You will definitely need a stove or grill so that you can cook. They have two-burner stoves that are compact and foldable or you can bring a small camping grill as well. You will need fuel canisters, a lighter, and possibly charcoal depending on the type you bring. There is also the option of cooking over the fire. There are campfire grills that look like grates and go right over the fire.
Since there is no electricity you need somewhere to store your perishable food. Try not to bring too much stuff that’s perishable since you will only have a cooler to store it in. We have a Lifetime brand cooler that looks really similar to a yeti cooler that works great. It keeps ice for about 2 days and is bear-proof. (Hopefully, you won’t need that feature). If you are camping in an area that has a bear population be sure that you have a bear safe food storage container. It is extremely important to keep any wildlife from getting into your food supply.
Tip: Bring two separate coolers. One for your drinks and one for perishable foods. Since you will be going in and out of the drink cooler throughout the day your perishable items will stay cold.
If you’re cooking on the stove you will need pots and pans. Bring some of your older ones just in case they get damaged while camping.
Plates are a must. Just remember if you bring reusable plates you need a bucket and dish soap to wash your dishes.
I always bring a reusable cup, water bottle, and coffee cup everywhere I travel.
If you don’t bring plastic silverware you will need to have the stuff to wash them.
If your campsite has a picnic table there will be places to sit and eat. Camping chairs are super nice to be able to sit around the fire and just relax in.
If you don’t have a picnic table make sure to bring a folding table. Even if the campsite has a table available we normally still bring another one to put stuff on and keep it off the ground.
If you plan on bringing your dog camping check out our Dog camping essentials post.
What to Eat While Camping
Cooking while camping is definitely more difficult than cooking at home. You will probably be exerting more energy while camping especially if you are hiking or swimming all day.
Make sure you bring extra food and snacks to have throughout the day. And plenty of water!
Plan a Menu
Planning a menu will be the biggest help when cooking on your camping trip. It will help you make sure you have everything you need and keep you organized while camping.
Try some fast, easy meals. There are a ton of recipes on Pinterest.
Need some ideas? Check out these camping recipes
Things to do While Camping
One of my favorite things to do while camping is to hike. It’s a great way to spend the day outdoors and get some exercise. Bringing our dog’s hiking is a great way to wear them out.
Check out our beginner’s guide to hiking for all the hiking gear you need.
I suggested earlier that you try camping somewhere that has a stream or river. It’s a great way to cool off if you’re camping in the summer.
There are a ton of games you can play while camping. We normally bring cards, a couple of board games, and cornhole.
Beginner Guide to Camping Tips
Keep your first camping trip short
Book a campground with activities nearby
Bring Spare Batteries
Bring extra clothes
Don’t forget a rain shelter
Leave no trace
How to Stay Safe While Camping
Bring a first aid kit
Put the fire out properly
Make sure you put the fire out fully before going to bed to prevent a forest fire.
Be aware of bears and other critters
If your campsite doesn’t have a bear canister make sure you lock up your food and take out all the garbage so that they don’t attract bears. You can also suspend your food into the trees.
Read this article: How to keep bears away while camping
I hope this guide to camping for beginners was helpful. Have you been camping? What was your favorite camping trip?